Below is a quick overview of my thoughts and opinions on Architectural portfolio development. I won’t go into the more tactile possibilities of origami portfolios, lasercut plexiglass covers, etc. These are sure-fire ways to make your work stand out. However, I want to be identified by my graphics and therefore need the imagery and layouts to do the talking. Besides, we are in the digital age, and therefore it is important to have a portfolio that looks good being viewed digitally.




Both portfolios (Undergraduate and Graduate) were created in Photoshop with a little help from Illustrator.

Many people use InDesign as a way to manage the pages. If you know the program, go for it. I did not use it and instead used Adobe acrobat to combine the PDF pages  to send to the printer.

(UPDATE) I have since created THIS POST on InDesign and how I have implemented it into my workflow for the creation my PORTFOLIO VOL. 3. It has really streamlined my process and plays well with both Photoshop and Illustrator.



Photoshop vs. Illustrator

First off, I think every architecture student should learn both Photoshop and Illustrator. With that said, I don’t think Illustrator should be main software used to create an architecture portfolio. Here’s why:

1)Photoshop is more expressive, Illustrator is diagrammatic. I think of it as sketching vs. CAD.

2)Almost everything that I WANT to do for my portfolio can be accomplished in Photoshop. This isn’t saying that Photoshop can do everything that Illustrator can do. In fact, I still used Illustrator to develop the parti diagram icons on every page of my graduate portfolio as well as some of the map diagrams.

3)Photoshop has some basic layout features as well as decent text manipulation tools. Along with text manipulation, you can rasterize the text and really get creative with blurring and erasing.



Above, the final saved size of each portfolio page ready to be printed



Initial Setup

Generally speaking, there is no a standard size for a portfolio. Depending on what you are using the portfolio for, some schools may require a size, but I won’t go there. Here are some things that I thought about when setting up my portfolios:


Square vs. rectangular. I have always gone with rectangular only because it is much easier to layout images and text. Try laying out the same images and text on a square page and then a rectangular page, and you will see what I’m talking about.




My portfolio is 6” x 9” landscape. I used this size for a couple of reasons.

1) 6″x9″ will fit on an 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper. This is good if you’re printing it yourself. Anything bigger than an 8.5” x 11” and you have to move up to 11” x 17” which most personal printers cannot print. Not only that, but then the portfolio becomes “too” big.

2) It is a common ratio and easy to divide the page into thirds.

3) I just like the size. It’s not too big or too small. Like I said, there are no rules to the size you choose, it’s about personal expression.

Note: be aware of where you are printing and if the printer can print the specified size. Many local print shops can work with custom sizes, but many online printers can only print limited sizes. I go into more depth with printing online HERE.




(AKA DPI, AKA Dots per inch).  My portfolio was set at 250 DPI (I hate large file sizes). There are some people that are really serious about this issue and will set the DPI to something like 400. All this does is triple or quadruple the file size. Since a portfolio is small and people will be up close looking at it, it’s important to have a high DPI. I would say anywhere between 250 and 300 is fine.

(UPDATE) I have made it a standard to create my portfolios using a 300 DPI canvas. This is an industry standard and most online printers that I use ask for 300 DPI.

RGB vs. CYMK (Update)

If you plan on physically printing your portfolio which most people do, use CYMK since this is the mode that printers use. Printers use cyan, yellow, magenta, and black colored inks to create color on paper. However, there is a limit to the colors that most printers can reproduce. Therefore, it is important to use the CYMK color model because programs like Photoshop and InDesign will tell you if you are using colors that the printer cannot produce.

A lot of what I create stays digital such as website images, digital portfolio, etc. If you images are only going to be viewed digitally on a screen, then use the RGB color mode. RGB allows for a higher range of colors to be used.



Full Bleed

Portfolios should always be full bleed. Bleeding your images means that the images and graphics extend past the page edge. This allows for a little margin of error when printing and trimming the printed images. You will see that when I set up my pages, I gave a 1/8” extra on all sides. So instead of a 6” x 9”, it is a 6-1/4” x 9-1/4”.  Most professional printers ask for this amount of bleed. It’s also a good number to use if you’re printing and trimming yourself.





Always account for the binding in the page layouts. I almost made this mistake myself. I was ready to print my portfolio and forgot that the binding would cut a ¼” into my pages intersecting a lot of images and text. I then had to go through and adjust every page accordingly. I don’t think there is a set number for how much you should allow, but I typically leave a ½” although you can probably get away with a ¼.” It depends a lot on the type of binding. When I say “leave a ½”, I mean do not have text or important images run into this area. Continue to bleed colors into this area so that you get the full bleed look.



Single vs. Double Sided

Double sided pages seem more complete and flow better. It sets up opportunities to connect pages together graphically. I would avoid single sided if you can.

Since my portfolio was double sided, I set up the Photoshop files in such a way that the pages facing each other were always the same project, and thus one Photoshop document. To clarify, instead of having a bunch of 6-1/4” x 9-1/4” pages, I instead used 6-1/4”x18-1/4” size pages which I later divided into two pages when it was ready to be printed. Again, this allowed for a better relationship between pages of the same project. When I was ready to divide the pages, I simply cropped the full image down to one page, then the other, and saved the individual pages. Double check the image size after cropping to be sure the page is still the correct size.



Above: An example of a Photoshop file used for double sided printed.